The recent Census in Australia recorded over 122,400 people experiencing homelessness.

Around 6% of the homeless population ‘sleep rough’, an expression used to describe people sleeping in the open or living without a home or shelter. The remaining 94% are typically hidden from view, relying on temporary forms of accommodation or living in overcrowded dwellings.1

Some people avoid interacting with people sleeping rough due to a lack of knowledge or uncertainty about what to say or do. It's ok to feel unsure, concerned or even a little overwhelmed about how to approach or interact with someone sleeping rough.

Patrick from Missionbeat, a Mission Australia service that reaches people sleeping rough in Sydney, shares his tips on how to help approach someone experiencing homelessness.

But first, learn about homelessness in Australia

Homelessness goes beyond ‘rooflessness’ and a lack of access to shelter. The experience of homelessness includes living in inadequate forms of accommodation including refuges, crisis centres or temporary housing.

Although homelessness is typically associated with sleeping rough, most people experiencing homelessness are ‘hidden’ from view. These people – the ‘hidden homeless’ - move between the homes of family members or stay in refuges, boarding houses, cheap motels, caravans and even cars, making do until they can find permanent accommodation.

Homelessness can look different to what we think or see but when you do come across someone sleeping rough, here are four tips from one of our frontline services.

How to approach someone experiencing homelessness

1. Start with warm acknowledgement: Like any other person in our life, approaching someone starts with warm acknowledgement. Look the person in the eye and take a moment to acknowledge their existence. We all feel better when we are acknowledged and not ignored.  

Mission Beat worker helping

2. Say g’day: A simple hello can go a long way. Say g’day and introduce yourself. Saying hello doesn’t need to be overcomplicated. We know the drill when you are a stranger in a room. Stuck on what to say? Here’s an example, “Hello, my name is Bob and I walk past you every day and I thought today I would stop and say hello”.

3. Engage in conversation: If the person wishes to engage and responds to your hello, have a conversation, and let them lead the direction. Depending on the person and their comfort levels, the conversation may involve more listening or asking simple questions to show them you care.

4. Offer assistance: One of the best forms of assistance for anyone sleeping rough is support accessing funded professional services like Missionbeat. 

Based in Sydney? Missionbeat is our mobile outreach service that cares for rough sleepers on the streets of Sydney. Recognised by the iconic Missionbeat van, our teams provide essential support, information and care to help people move from homelessness to housing.

Missionbeat can provide bedding, food service information, links to health services and case management so remember to call Missionbeat if you think they can assist the person.

If the person is based in Sydney’s inner city and surrounding suburbs, check if they are aware of Missionbeat and offer to contact our services on their behalf.

Mission Beat worker Patrick

"Lack of affordable and appropriate housing is the most significant cause of homelessness. Not drugs. Not mental health. Not Alcohol. These complexities can arise after longitudinal rough sleeping events so early intervention is important. By calling Missionbeat you can assist in linking people to professional support services and help Mission Australia support help make rough sleeping rare, brief and non-recurring.” - Patrick, Missionbeat.

If you feel compelled to assist the person directly and immediately then ask the person is there anything they need. Be careful around just purchasing food because you think they need it. Remember poor diets can induce ill health so grabbing a fast take away meal that is nearby may not be appropriate.

A supermarket gift card may be better empowering the person to buy what they need when they need it. Alternatively consider healthier options like fresh fruits or salads.

Learn more about our ending homelessness in Australia.

 1ABS (2021) Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness


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